The Role of Women in Family Business

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) emphasizes on the need to have gender balance on companies’ boards and the importance of putting structures in place to attract young women to take senior roles in family businesses…

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) in partnership with the Crowe Horwath UAE, recently hosted a successful event to explore the role of women in family-run businesses.

With the sole objective of assessing the progress made three-years after the noble legislation undertaken by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE Ruler of Dubai in 2012 to make it compulsory for companies and businesses to appoint women to their boards and senior managerial roles, the seminar also sought to look into ways of how best young women could transition into higher echelons of family businesses.

Rajesh Pareek, the Chief Financial Officer of the DIFC Authority, in his welcome speech, expounded on the strategic and logistical advantages that the DIFC offers to attract women entrepreneurs, as the hub is increasingly becoming home to many women-run businesses.

“Competing in today’s global marketplace depends on delivering services efficiently and reliably. Organisations and companies of every type and size need effective means for doing business, and to fuel this competitiveness, the DIFC provides an incomparable logistics and IT support that saves companies both time and money by seamlessly connecting infrastructural networks,” he said.

“In addition, the facility nurtures a culture of innovation that provides enhanced access for companies pursuing new opportunities.”

He explained that DIFC’s other advantages that make it attract women entrepreneurs include world-class intellectual and workforce programs, and a diverse, robust logistics network.

“While other freezones in the UAE offer similar advantages in some of these areas, few can claim the total package, and none leverage and focus on logistics as a strategic economic development tool the way the DIFC does,” he added.

On the issue of women’s participation in family business, Rajesh pointed out that the demographic situation involving a high level of equality in both education and employment in the UAE should help young females transition easily and establish themselves as senior managers in family firms.

“In the GCC in particular, women’s real contribution seems to be undervalued due to the conservative tradition in the region and their full potential is still not well utilised. Women’s role in family firms should be supported to the benefit of their important economic and social roles, family well-being and the improved prospects of the development of family firms in the next generation,” he added.

In his key note address, the Founder and Managing Partner of Crowe Horwath UAE said that family firms have proven themselves to be incredibly successful organizational models, adding that in the UAE, family-run entities are expected to be the driving force behind the country’s economy in 2015 and beyond.

“Family-owned companies contribute as much as 80 per cent of the GCC’s non-oil GDP, and the focus has now shifted to family businesses in the face of plunging oil prices,” he said.

Dr Khalid opined that women in the UAE are increasingly playing a bigger role in the country’s family businesses, “but more still needs to be done to pave their way toward higher decision-making positions.”

Saad Maniar, the Managing Partner of the DIFC branch of Crowe Horwath UAE said that now more than ever, the role of women in senior positions of companies could not be gainsaid or over emphasized.

“Although recognized as generally very important players, the role of women is often defined as invisible in business decision-making. This should not be the case. Women should be adequately recognised and rewarded just like their male counterparts,” he said emphatically.

The event, which was moderated by the COO of CPI Media Group Gina O’Hara, also heard different views from top women managing family firms in the UAE, who engaged the audience with their varied opinions on managerial, ownership and transition issues in companies.

They included Lama Younis, the founder of Hissah Enrichment Centre, Zainab Fakhruddin, Executive Director at Fakhruddin Holdings, Edward B Quinlan, Chairman of the ICAEW Middle East Members’ Advisory Board and Farida El Agamy, General Manager, Tharawat Family Business Forum. Others were Stuart Dunlop, the Market Director for ACCA in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia and Nusrate Ibrahim, Associate Director at Crowe Horwath UAE.

Edward Quinlan, who has been a strong advocate of ‘gender balance’ in companies’ boards, said he was against quota system as an effective tool for increasing female representation and meaningful engagement.

“Despite widespread consensus that quota systems are optimally effective when coupled with initiatives that also address qualitative benefits for women, the formulation of specific initiatives to actively foster this balance represents a major challenge in policy development,” he argued.

Quinlan proposed that the development of distinct education units at a high school level, tailored to equipping women with the leadership and business skills required to make an informed contribution to policy debate and, second, the importance of addressing the belligerent culture associated with business decision-making and to promote values associated with traditionally ‘feminine’ reasoning, such as dialogue and negotiation.

Over the last century, catalysed by high growth of young girls graduating from universities in the UAE, the recognition of women as valuable and viable business forces has gathered momentum, culminating to the announcement in 2012 by the Ruler of Dubai, to “promote gender equality and empower women in the government and corporate sectors.”

Three years after the edict was passed, the panelists were all in agreement that a lot has been done to achieve gender parity at governmental and private sector level, but more still needs to be done.

Stuart Dunlop, the Market Director for ACCA in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia revealed that given the shift towards achieving gender parity at all levels of education, this period represents a critical time for reflection on the effectiveness of strategies employed at the national and emirate level to empower women in the government, business and corporate sphere.

“It is generally accepted that a socially inclusive society constitutes a fundamental principle of corporate and democratic governance and as such, women are entitled to equal and full business participation as a fulfilment of their rights. Therefore quota systems should be seen as a “developmental issue” and “moral obligation”, through the promotion of both genders in order to achieve a more inclusive meaningful engagement and better participation among all business partners,” he urged.

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